Looking back now, I ought to have told, but thanks to all those who reached out and asked for the story of my relationship +with an Honourable member of the House of Representatives, Busayo Oluwole-Oke, who for the fourth time, is representing Obokun/Oriade Federal Constituency. Some stories are better told than kept and this in my view is one of them because I still find it unbelievable, somewhat puzzling and each time I ask my myself ‘Rafat what were you thinking?!!!!”
‘Rafa (elongating the last vowel), come in’, he called me into his office from the ante room, which was separated only by a half demarcation, the door giving him a view of who enters the office.
I walked into his office at about noon, he had told me that was the best time to get his attention, so I took advantage of it. The ante room which was where his secretary was, was a demarcation by plywood so he could hear everything taking place in that office. He heard me when I asked a young man Samson, if I could see oga Wole and even before the guy I later knew to be Samson responded, he called out my name.
I went in, stood in front of him not saying a word as I was really very angry that morning. I stood over him, watching him draw some lines on a paper, then he asked me to sit down, still not looking up at me. I wished he did because the scorn on my face was, in my view, epic. That must have been for a few minutes, but I believed it was forever. I came to give this man a piece of my mind and here he was pretending to be busy. My mind must have wondered very far because his voice came to me from a distance.
“Good morning sir”, I muttered just out of courtesy, especially since his staff were in the other office, it would be inappropriate for them to hear me speak to their boss disrespectfully.
“Rafa, ba wo ni? ( how are you)?
“I am not fine. You can see I am not fine. I lost my job. Sheraton refused to renew my contract, and this is no thanks to you. Now I don’t have job and I don’t even know what next to do.” These might not be my exact words, but I remember I was very upset. I still am. I went on and on about how miserable I had been since earlier in the day when I went back to check if my Sheraton Hotels Abuja had renewed my contract, my disappointment though I had a forewarning and how I felt helpless.
‘Good’ I remember him saying.
“Good? I don’t have a job, I don’t have a certificate and you think it is good that I am now jobless’’? I was in tears. I believed my world had just crumbled again, my world had been crumbling several times and each time I told myself it could not get worse but that incident made it appear to be worse.
“You don’t belong there”, he continued. “You don’t need a job, you need a degree, you need a certificate, you need to be in school. So, go back to school. That job was going to kill or destroy you forever. Rafa listen to me. You will thank me one day if you just as much as listen to what I am saying and obey”.
“Oh my God, you still do not understand me”, I cut in. “Why is no one listening or paying attention to what I am saying?” I had said. “I know I had to go back to school, but the question is how. I needed the money to pay my way”. I unleashed another stream of tears. I still feel the tears now. No one understood me. I was expelled from school in my final year, my father was so disappointed he blamed me for the expulsion. No one on earth, except my school mates and some lecturers in school believed the expulsion itself was criminal. Everyone had something to say about what I should not have done. Everyone was judgemental so I broke off. I was determined to get my life back on track, all by myself and I did not think I needed anybody’s help.
“Have you thought of what I offered you? You said you were going to think about it”, he continued.
“How am I supposed to think now that I have no job and I do not even know what to do? I was going to think, I was still planning to think and now this….”; he chuckled but managed to keep a straight face. I remembered his chuckle only after I left his office and that hurt me seriously and I promised never to talk to him again. I intended to keep my promise. But I never did.
Ok. Let me explain.
I had got a job at Sheraton Hotel and Towers Abuja, as a housekeeper. My contract dated 29/4/95, was signed by ELI GAMALIEL, PERSONEL OFFICER. It was the most important job ever because it came at a time when I thought my life was going to end. Before that job, I had walked round Abuja, holding meetings with journalists and colleagues, hoping for a miracle that will help to reverse the expulsion slammed on me and 45 others by the authorities of the University of Abuja in 1994. There were very many long cases at the FIIB, where I was detained for two weeks, then released without charge, cleared to return to school but the school was insistent, I remained expelled.
A lot of things happened. Since that is not the focus of this write up, I will roll tape to the point where I was quartered with the wonderful family of Alhaji Sani, who opened his doors to accommodate me in his house at the then Specialist Hospital, now University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Gwagwalada. I reckoned, at that time, that staying within the vicinity of the University would save me cost, enable me to get early information about my recall and I would have immediate access to those whose help I thought I needed.
It turned out to be the most frustrating experience as friends began to desert me. They were, understandably, scared of being seen with me otherwise they might be also expelled without even the privilege of being suspended or even appearing before a panel to defend themselves. Yes. That was what the situation was in Isa Muhammed’s University of Abuja as I challenged him and his conspirators to show any evidence of me being summoned or appearing before any panel to hear allegations against me before I was maliciously, criminally and unconscionably expelled.
The frustrations were going to break me, so I began to come into Abuja town partly to hang out with fellow expelled students, meet with lawyers, meet with journalists who were supporting our cause, to look for a job and more importantly to get away from the school environment . I usually would leave Gwagwalada in the morning, get to Zuba where my father had a mechanic workshop, then to Sulieja to see the lawyer my dad had got for me since I insisted on fighting in court rather than going to beg, head to Garki to link up with other expelled students, then returned very late at night, so all I would do was just to go to bed. It was in no order as sometimes I skipped one or two. It was on one of such visits to the lawyer in Sulieja, that I met Mr Busayo Oluwole Oke whose office was just opposite the lawyer’s office.
We ran into each other, we exchanged pleasantries and he called me back. You look familiar he said. I did not know him, so I did not respond. Are you Rafat, Mr. Ojo’s daughter? I heaved. Yea that is me. My father’s workshop was a meeting point of sorts as nearly everyone with a Mercedes in Abuja in the early 1990s would fix their cars there. Those who came there, knew me, heard about my case especially after my arrest. Plus, I look like my father, so has never been difficult for anyone who knew him, to recognize me as his daughter. “Well, sorry about the case”, he said. Then went on to tell me how concerned my father was and how he hoped the legal case worked out well speedily. I doubt if I said anything because inside me, there was a huge turmoil wondering why my father will not stop talking about me.
Significantly, funding my trips became a problem. I could no longer afford to travel – yes, Gwagwalada to Garki was a travel, the stipends from my father was grossly insufficient so I had to take job search much more seriously. It was during the job searches that the idea of moving out of Gwagwalada became imperative. Abuja at that time had a lot of opportunities as it appeared to be a huge construction site, hotels were opening at record speed and were constantly advertising vacancies as such, there were very high demand for workers especially unskilled workers and artisans. The adverts were usually broadcast by word of mouth. We had formed something like a club as I heard of the next place hiring from other job hunters with whom I scavenged the city. I searched for jobs that required only secondary school certificates as minimum qualification. I had made several photocopies of the certificate added to a very powerful application letter. I think they usually considered it powerful for the position I was applying for,- I was a student of English Language at the University of Abuja, my GPA was leading to a first class, so I was an above average student.
I got several invitations for interview, but I never made it beyond the first stage. I lost one job because I didn’t know what a microwave was; I lost another one because they did not like the idea that I always tied wrappers and wore long dresses. They asked me if that was how I dressed all the time and I replied in the affirmative. They said they would get back to me, but they never did; in one of the interviews they said my skirt was too long after I went to buy skirts; in another interview, I was asked to walk across the room and return. Looking back that must have been the most hilarious because I have two left legs, I walk with a manly spring and honestly, I didn’t know why they wanted me to walk across the room and return. Well, I walked my Rafat walk and they just asked me to wait outside. It was only when I got outside the interview room that I was politely walked out. I was downcast because all those I was on the street with, had got jobs leaving me with new job seekers.
We co-travellers had formed something like a bond and we usually agreed on where to meet the next day. During conversations, I discovered that some of them lived in town. One of them told me she lived in a completed, yet unoccupied building. She told me her house was full, the security only took 2 tenants but that there were other houses around that we could check on. We went around after a few rejections, we found a place. We agreed on terms and I moved in the following day.
The terms were very simple- I can’t receive visitors, I can’t cook, curtains must be down and lights off at night, I must pay every week and if I want to go out, I must sneak, peep and be sure the owner was not around, same applied if I want to come back in, I have to loiter around the neighbourhood to be sure the owner was not around. It was ok by me. The building was tastefully finished, tiled, there was running water, so I got myself a mat and the first night there, was the most peaceful night I had had in weeks. I was very happy, that I have shut the world behind me. Well, I did not think of what I was going to eat, how I was going to pay my next weekly rent, I was just pleased to be in a place I got for myself, away from family, friends and all those who knew where I was coming from. My life can now begin afresh, I thought.
To be continued.